Know Your Opponent: Six questions answered by a North Carolina reporter

Before every game, I ask a reporter who covers the Gophers upcoming opponent to give us a view from the opponent’s perspective.

I asked Jordan Falls from Keeping It Heel six questions about the North Carolina Tar Heels. He also answers an extra credit question for us!

Minnesota travels to Chapel Hill for their first road game on September 16th to take on 20th ranked Tar Heels.

Huge thanks to Jordan for giving us his thoughts!

Follow Jordan on Twitter: @Jordanfalls

Follow Noel on Twitter: @N0elthompson

1.Mack Brown enters his fifth year at North Carolina. Last season was the program’s second-best season since 1997. They started 9-1 but ended the season with four straight losses. Interesting note: The Tar Heels were five points away from making it 12 wins last year. What are the expectations for this North Carolina team in 2023? What does a successful season look like for this team this year? 

Over at, we actually addressed this before the season began. After two games, I don’t think those expectations have changed much. Winning close games (and losing them) in 2022 was something that was make or break for the UNC football program. This team has a high ceiling, especially with Drake Maye at quarterback. Anything short of an ACC Championship appearance will be classified as a failure or disappointing season among Tar Heel fans, as it should be coming off an appearance in 2022. I think the ceiling for Carolina is an ACC Championship (something the program hasn’t accomplished since 1980) and a New Year Six bowl appearance/win.

2. North Carolina returns the ACC Player of the Year in quarterback Drake Maye. He led an offense last year that finished second nationally in total offense per game. Maye was on many lists to be a Heisman finalist entering this year, an award no UNC football player has won. What makes Drake Maye such a dangerous player? Does he have any weaknesses? 

What makes Maye so dangerous is what makes many great quarterbacks dangerous: a high football IQ combined with talent. He can make throws those “Mahomes-esque” throws that make you go; how did he do that? He is a playmaker who can make plays with his arm, but he can also beat you by scrambling and getting out of the pocket. Something the Tar Heels have tried to limit in their first two games this year is the amount Maye is running this year. In 2022, he led the team in rushing and took some big hits; that’s something that Carolina would like to avoid this year and protect their star QB.

Maye doesn’t have many weaknesses, but sometimes trying to hard to be a playmaker can sometimes lead to mistakes. As great as he is, he is still human and can (and will) still turn the ball over. He had two interceptions in the season opener against South Carolina. One he threw back across his body while scrambling and missed his receiver. The other interception was juggled by his receiver, but it was also into coverage. So, knowing he can make throws most QBs can’t, but knowing when to take those chances is something to watch for from Maye this season.


3. North Carolina enters Saturday with a 2-0 record and is ranked 20th in the country. The Tar Heels beat South Carolina in their opener, 31-17, but needed two overtimes to beat Appalachian State last week, 40-34. What has gone right for North Carolina through two games? What concerns do you have for this team that they need to work on? 

Naturally, the defense went right in the season opener against South Carolina. That was the question every fan had entering the season after last year’s defense that finished near the bottom of the country in every major defensive category. In week one, they sacked Spencer Rattler nine times and had 16 tackles for loss. Creating pressure against the Gamecocks and stopping the run (they held South Carolina to negative two rushing yards!!!) was the key factor in that win.

Against Appalachian State, the front seven wasn’t able to create nearly as much pressure. They only had four tackles for loss and zero sacks against the Mountaineers. Credit goes to App State for coming into that game with a phenomenal game plan: run the football and make quick passes. In the South Carolina game, the Gamecocks went down 31-14 and really had to get away from the running game, allowing Carolina not to have to worry about it. App State stayed true to the run game and forced the Tar Heels to defend both the pass and the run.

The defense isn’t going to have nine sacks or 16 tackles for loss every game, that’s just not realistic. However, they have to create some sort of pressure. Otherwise, they aren’t going to be able to get off the field in 3rd and medium/long, and that was an issue against the Mountaineers.

On the offensive side of the ball, establishing the run game early and often has been huge to take the pressure off of Drake Maye with back-to-back 100-yard rushers. It will be interesting to see how teams start game planning against the Tar Heels because it’s almost a pick your poison. Stop Drake Maye with two high safeties? Or bring a safety down into the box to stop the run? If the run game can continue to be successful, it will really allow for the passing game to open up more.

Speaking of the passing game, that’s been a weakness or concern. The offense lost two wide receivers to the NFL, Josh Downs and Antoine Green. They brought in two transfers to replace them, Devontez ‘Tez’ Walker and Nate McCollum. Unfortunately, Walker has been ruled ineligible (more on that later), and McCollum has been dealing with an injury early in the season. He didn’t play in the opener against the Gamecocks and only saw nine snaps against App State. Not having a deep threat or a go-to receiver for Maye is something that the Carolina offense needs to develop. It could be as simple as new receivers who didn’t catch passes from Maye last year, and time is needed to build the quarterback-receiver chemistry.


4. The Tar Heels offense last year ranked second in the ACC in yards per game and third in scoring. No doubt everybody knows how good Drake Maye is. What other players on the North Carolina offense should Minnesota fans know about? 

As previously mentioned, the run game has been a point of emphasis early in the season for the 2023 Tar Heels. Under new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, British Brooks, and Omarion Hampton each have had 100-yard rushing games this year, Brooks with 103 yards against South Carolina and Hampton with 234 yards. Maye hasn’t developed a go-to wide receiver yet this season; instead, spreading the ball around to various guys has been the approach. Maye found nine different targets in game one, and seven in game two, but neither game had a 100-yard receiver (in 2022, the Tar Heels had 9 100-yard receivers, including two in two different games – at Duke and versus Pitt).

Junior, Kobe Paysour has been the most reliable receiver for Maye, catching 15 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. The Tar Heels are still trying to find that game-breaking receiver to help open up the passing game. That guy could be Georgia Tech transfer Nate McCollum, who led the Yellow Jackets in receiving in 2022 with 655 yards and averaging 10.9 yards per catch. To be honest, the receiving game is still a question mark for the Carolina offense.


5. While the offense was one of the best in the ACC in many categories last year, the defense found itself on the opposite end. The Tar Heels defense was last in the ACC in yards allowed and points allowed. How has the defense looked so far this year? What impact players should the Gophers know about when Minnesota has the ball on offense? 

This year’s defense has looked drastically better despite their struggles against Appalachian State. Last year, the Tar Heel defense recorded 17 sacks in 14 games and 51 tackles for loss. Through the season’s first game, they had over 50% of their sack total from last year, recording 9 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Creating pressure has been an emphasis for the 2023 squad, and they did that well in the season opener. Against App State, not so much, but the secondary was able to make just enough plays and break up passes that overcame the struggles of the front seven.

Last year, the defense allowed A LOT of yards after contact by not wrapping up or missing tackles. This year, we’ve not seen as many missed tackles and a much better job getting guys on the ground on first contact.

If the Gophers don’t know about senior linebacker Cedric Gray, they should. He led all Power Five schools in tackles in 2022 and has been named to several preseason award watch lists, including the Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, and Nagurski Trophy Award.

Also, among the front seven is Kaimon Rucker, who was named Walter Camp Player of the Week after his eight tackles (five for loss) and 2.5 sack performance against South Carolina in week one. He didn’t have as big of a game against the Mountaineers, but he is someone to look out for upfront.

East Tennessee State transfer Alijah Huzzie has greatly impacted the Tar Heel secondary. He plays corner, but after the season-ending injury to DeAndre Boykins, he also has seen time at nickel (what UNC calls the star position). In two games, Huzzie has 13 tackles and 2 pass deflections. He is someone that teams will look to avoid throwing to his side of the field.


6. This will be the first-ever matchup between Minnesota and North Carolina. The Gophers will travel for the first time this season and head to Chapel Hill as touchdown underdogs. Both teams have yet to lose this season. What does North Carolina need to do to stay unbeaten? What is your prediction for the game this Saturday?

First off, I just want to say how exciting it is to have Power Five non-conference games on the schedule and even more exciting for matchups that don’t happen often. I’m really looking forward to this one.

For the Tar Heels to remain unbeaten, they must continue to build on what they have accomplished defensively in the first two games (granted, they took a step back in the App State game, but not something that can’t be recovered from). The Mountaineers controlled the time of possession in week two, and I suspect Minnesota will take a similar approach to keep Drake Maye off the field as much as possible. The Carolina defense has to get off the field on third down against the Gophers and can’t allow big plays to keep drives alive.

On offense, the Tar Heels can’t have missed opportunities. Against Appalachian State, they failed to convert a 4th and 1 inside the 25 and a 3rd and 1 on the Mountaineer side of the field. Not leaving points on the field is huge in this one for Maye and company. Keeping a balanced approach and not becoming one-dimensional is key.

We predicted all of the games before the season started over at for UNC football, and I’m sticking with my original prediction on this one: Carolina wins the first game in this matchup, 31-21, but it’s going to be close going into the fourth quarter.

Extra Credit Question:

7. Mack Brown didn’t hold back his opinion last week when he released a statement sharing his disappointment with the NCAA for not clearing Kent State transfer Tez Walker to play in 2023. It appears the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees is getting involved. What’s your take on the situation? How has this situation affected the team, if at all? 

This situation is about more than football. What the NCAA is doing to Tez Walker and keeping him from playing a sport that could alter his life by missing this season is really disappointing to see from an organization that claims to put the student-athlete first; they aren’t doing that in this case. Everything Mack Brown has said has been spot on. I won’t dive into all of the details of the case, because those have been well covered nationally.

The Board of Trustees did meet on Monday for approximately 90 minutes in a closed session. While we don’t know what exactly was said, we know the purpose of the meeting was to exhaust all options and be sure they are doing everything they can for Walker. There has been speculation that Walker could sue the NCAA, but that can get complicated quickly with legal counsel. We do know that the Trustees received internal and external legal advice in their meeting on Monday.

Mack Brown said in his radio coaches show on Monday night that he doesn’t expect Walker to play on Saturday and wouldn’t expect him to play this season. It seems the Board of Trustees getting involved is more of a “check the box” type meeting to make sure they haven’t missed anything up until this point that could help Walker’s case.

Off the field, the team is rallying around Walker and using it as motivation to play for him. He was the honorary team captain in the home opener, and the team is playing with No. 9 stickers on their helmets. This year, Walker was projected to be the No. 1 receiver, replacing NFL Rookie Josh Downs. Not having him on the field has hurt the depth in the wide receiver room and Drake Maye’s options.

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